With the launch of its new web site on October 2, 2006, Cisco is taking a leadership role in showing businesses how to use a web site to get closer to customers, build communities and improve collaboration with those customer communities.  These are three goals  companies of all sizes can aspire to.                                                                                                                                                                   

How is Cisco doing this?  Well, the short answer is they are using the emerging, so-called Web 2.0 tools.  Web 2.0 is the catch-phrase for new Internet capabilities that really do make it easier for all of us—especially businesses—to interact online in new, easier ways.  Blogs, Podcasts (audio recordings), and Wikis (workspaces for online, group collaboration)are part of Web 2.0.  The longer answer is, Cisco is simply taking advantage of some new Internet tools that many companies of all size can also tap into.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Some Some of the new features and capabilities Cisco has added to their site include:           Networking Professionals Connection—this is an online forum where registered customers and users, can ask questions and post experiences and comments online about using Cisco’s products. Customers and users can then actually, answer each other’s questions.  Hence, a ‘community’, or, user groups on steroids.  And some of the ‘work’ can be accomplished by customers/users helping each other.  It is not all on Cisco employees to answer every question—and there are a lot of them already! 

                                                                                                                                                         

Cisco also is hosting, Member Product Reviews (member refers to the fact, I think, that you must register in order to post questions and comments on these new web site sections).   So think of user forums—right on Cisco’s corporate web site.  And with all of the comments customers, users and other interested parties are allowed to make about using its products—after registering—you might ask why Cisco would need to maintain blogs.  (After all, the networking giant is trying to build communities, and you cannot build a community without knowing who your members are, so you must register.)  And more importantly, just how long will it take them to answer the questions?       

If your company takes this approach, be sure to have your employees available to respond to the questions. I viewed some questions on the Cisco site that were posted on October 9 and not answered yet.   See here for Discussion Forum on IP Telephony (Internet Protocol Telephony) where the red check mark indicates an answered question.  As of this writing on 10-15-06, I see only a couple of red check marks.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 In the Ask the Experts section, you find 2-week long conversations where you can post questions to key Cisco engineers and product managers and have an “…opportunity to learn with…” their experts on various technical topics that relate to how products, solutions and technologies function.                                                                                           

There is much, much more.  You should cruise Cisco.com to find all the nuggets.  I applaud Cisco for its openness, and willingness to collaborate.  Cisco always had lots of content on their site (they now even have ‘video datasheets’ for featured products).  But now Cisco has extended the content and added true, two-way conversations among their experts and their customers.         

                                                                                                                                  

How could your company participate?   Well, it could be easier than you might think.  Despite the fact that your web site budget is no where near Cisco’s, many of the web 2.0 technologies are within the reach of many smaller companies.  For example, you could host a question and answer forum on your company’s (soon-to-be-launched) blog or make a 15-minute audio recording interviewing your employees about what was behind the development of a new product or service.  You know,  a conversation-starter.  More on using new Web-based technologies to engage customers and prospects to come in future posts.

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